Hidden New York City

Words by Carmen Gentile | Photos by Jason Goodrich

Produced by One Down Media


Early Saturday mornings are serene in most major American cities. Last night’s revelers have already staggered or been driven home, conceding the streets to the well rested and those who can rage beyond the dawn. 

New York, of course, is not your average city. Not only does it never sleep, Gotham doesn’t even micro-nap. 

I witness firsthand New York’s legendary freneticism while riding alongside Blue Thomas, my friend and guide on a New York moto adventure, two minutes into which he’s nearly clipped by a garbage truck. 



We’re riding through Lower Manhattan’s Flatiron District, home to the iconic building bearing the same moniker, when the hulking refuse collector rolls up on Blue’s rear wheel and blasts a warning honk that resonates off the steel and concrete towers flanking the street. 

We round a corner to escape the foul-smelling mass bearing down on us, only to roll up on another garbage truck. This one is parked, however, and its driver is cleaning the windshield. 

“You guys finally have a nice day for a ride,” says the man in a jumpsuit wielding a hose, a reference to the long, brutal winter New York had endured. 

Not bad, I surmise, if you’ve got your head on a quick swivel at 7 a.m. and the throttle-brake reflexes required to navigate the city’s traffic, construction, jaywalkers and a cornucopia of other potential distractions and dangers. 

So far, I’m loving it.

I’ve ridden all over the world and in cities far more chaotic and less mannered than New York. I first learned to ride in Rio de Janeiro, where moto-boy messengers are regularly hit and killed by drivers who favor the “offensive” motoring philosophy of constantly weaving and never relenting to the will of other drivers. 

More recently, I was riding motorcycles in northern Iraq while reporting on the fighting between the Islamic State and Iraqi forces, trying to show folks back home the picturesque and peaceful side of an oft-misunderstood country. 


I’ve lived and ridden all over the world and find riding to be the best way to get to know a foreign land and its people. 

And though I’ve visited New York countless times for work, and been one of those bleary-eyed fun seekers scurrying home before the first thin wisp of dawn, I can’t say I know the city all that well. 


That’s why I asked Blue to give me the 50-cent, two-wheel tour of New York you wouldn’t see from the top of a double-decker bus that rolls past the Empire State Building and other spots made famous by the cast of “Sex in the City.”


Not one to half-ass such an important assignment, Blue gave his task some serious thought, then devised a day ride for us that would highlight some historical New York sights, as well as some hidden gems.  




From Flatiron we ride through Midtown and into the Upper East Side, cruising through the iconic Park Avenue tunnel near Grand Central Terminal. As my knowledge of New York is often relegated to my recognition of the cityscape in popular movies, I immediately recognized this area as the scene of the climactic final battle of the first Avengers movie. 

I see no sign of Hulk rampage damage on any of the skyscrapers as we head east to leave Manhattan by crossing the Queensboro Bridge into Queens. 

There I recognize not the landscape but a familiar style of home popular among previous generations of Italian-Americans like myself. The two-tone brickwork of houses in the Flushing neighborhood are ornamented with white lion statues and gilded cherubs on the front porch, reminiscent of those from my working-class, Italian hometown. 

While cruising along a Queens boulevard, I can’t help but note its being a centerpiece of my favorite Eddie Murphy movie, Coming to America. Beyond the boulevard, we arrive at our first stop, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, home to the giant World’s Fair globe and twin pillars adorned by what closely resemble UFOs that many may recall from the final scene of Men in Black.




The “Unisphere,” as the globe is known, stands 14 stories tall and was erected in 1964 as an attraction for that year’s World’s Fair. The seemingly alien aircrafts on poles are actually old observation towers constructed around the same time to provide 360-degree views of the entire city. The UFOs of MIB fame are long dormant and rusty, unlike the globe that maintains its stainless steel sheen.

We park our bikes and walk up right to the southern pole of the globe. A young father is performing a series of headstands and other convoluted poses while his daughter attempts to climb up the base of the world. 

“You want to do yoga with Daddy?” he asks her, a request she ignores while trying to touch Antarctica. 

We circle to the other side of the globe, where Blue points to the tip of South America and suggests offhandedly: “Patagonia trip?” 

“Why not?” I tell him. “We’ll find some stories along the way and make an assignment out of it.”




The seed of a future ride planted in our minds, we mount up and head farther east for our next destination: Breezy Point, a blue-collar beach community that’s also home to many a New York police officer and fireman. 

Spring is still struggling to make an appearance as we ride along the Grand Central Parkway heading south toward the shore, whipping us with salty, biting winds as the trees still struggle to bloom. 


I’m overjoyed to slow our roll to a casual cruising speed when we reach Breezy Point. It’s both picturesque in its natural beauty and a bit hardscrabble and rough around the edges, like many a New York neighborhood. The area was also hard hit by Superstorm Sandy back in 2012. Some homes and business still bear the scars. 

Out here, less than an hour ride, the towering buildings of Manhattan are no longer visible in our rearview mirrors. On our right shoulders are sand dunes and surf I vow one day to revisit in order to catch some swell. I’ve heard stories about New York watermen and women being particularly territorial about their waves, though they can’t be any rougher than the gang members I encountered while surfing in Brazil. 



We ride until we run out of road, passing the gated side streets of Breezy Point until we arrive at the Breezy Point Surf Club, a popular family destination.

It’s still too early in the season for most beachgoers. The pavilions are desolate, although the sun glinting off the sand makes it seem almost like a summer’s day to the naked eye. A deserted beach anxiously awaiting the arrival of summer is not what I had imagined to find on a two-wheeled tour of New York. 

With food on our minds, we double back and head for fish and chorizo tacos. Along one wall of the outdoor seating area are large lockers for storing boards. However, on this brisk day, it appears that none of the clientele would be bold enough to paddle into the frigid surf. 




Before completing our loop back to Manhattan, Blue’s got one more stop in mind, a place not known for its natural or architectural beauty, but rather as an oddity even most New Yorkers have never seen for themselves. 


At the mouth of a footpath, we park our bikes and stroll along a trail lined with sea reeds twice our height, creating an near-natural tunnel that I remark would be a good place to ditch a body. 

Turns out my macabre observation is somewhat apropos, considering that Blue is taking me to Brooklyn’s Dead Horse Bay, named more than a century ago for being the home of a glue factory whose main ingredient was the bones of aged and lame horses. 

In those foul-smelling days of industrialized old New York, discarded horse carcasses were known to clog the bay and emit an indescribably foul odor. 

Today there are no more horse corpses along this stretch, but there are many a remains from a bygone era littering the sand. 




It seems Dead Horse Bay was also where much of the city’s garbage was dumped in the old days before caring about the environment was en vogue. Today, erosion of the old landfill has uncovered untold numbers of old bottles and other discarded items from those less-than-Earth-friendly days. 

Blue and I pick through some of the bottles and see brands we recognize, such as Clorox, although in brown, loop-handled jugs more commonly associated with moonshine rather than sparkling whites. 

They’re just the kind of relics hipsters love to place on mantels and bookshelves to let people know how eclectic they are, as evidenced by the handful of people walking up and down the stretch trying to find the perfect collectible. One generation’s garbage becomes another’s quirky conversation piece. 

Brooklynite Jessica Gaussion is scouring the sand with her mother for smaller pieces for some yet-to-be-envisioned craft project I can only assume will be a mosaic of sorts. 

“There’s very little red glass out here,” she tells me. “That’s a really coveted piece.” I suppress the urge to offer my opinion of her search when recollecting how a week earlier, I was in Mosul watching young children sift through the rubble that was their neighborhood for anything of value to sell to the scrap dealers, just so they could eat. 



We bid our farewell to the odd stretch and saddle up for a ride back to Manhattan. The sun is getting low as we pull onto the Belt Parkway, casting the Verrazano Bridge in a golden glow. 

Just before sunset, we return to Lower Manhattan, past hoards of tourists milling around the memorial at the base of the Freedom Tower, before arriving at the legendary Ear Inn. This historical watering hole was a favorite haunt for sailors as far back as the early 1800s and now attracts bikers and civilians alike. Its history is intimately intertwined with the city we spent the day exploring.

Our bartender relates an old tale about how the sail-power vessels of yore would float right up to the dock, which in the earliest days of the Ear Inn was just outside the front door. In those days some sailors apparently weren’t allowed to leave ship, so the proprietor would pass crates of beer and stronger spirits right into the hands of eager seamen. Those that could leave, and landlubbers alike, were known to visit the working ladies in the upstairs bordello upstairs to slake a more carnal thirst. 


Our bartender relates an old tale about how the sail-power vessels of yore would float right up to the dock, which in the earliest days of the Ear Inn was just outside the front door. In those days some sailors apparently weren’t allowed to leave ship, so the proprietor would pass crates of beer and stronger spirits right into the hands of eager seamen. Those that could leave, and landlubbers alike, were known to visit the working ladies in the upstairs bordello upstairs to slake a more carnal thirst. 

Old maps we examine in a book that the bartender lends us attest to the bar’s previous close proximity to the water. However, two centuries later, the Hudson River is several blocks to the west, thanks to Lower Manhattan’s ever-expanding waistline. When the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were built, the dirt excavated for their foundations formed what is known today as Battery Park. 

The Ear Inn also did its duty to provide shelter for those New Yorkers fleeing the collapsing World Trade Center in 2001 amid the uncertainty and mayhem of that fateful day in September. 

All these years later, the Ear Inn is still a refuge of sorts for bikers and non-riders alike, though the sailors and working girls are long gone. 

We ponder the inn’s bawdy past and wish we could have been there during those debauched days long ago. 




Our bikes plinking and cooling by the curb, Blue and I recount the day’s ride and marvel at how much ground we were able to cover in a single day. Blue’s been living in New York for more than 14 years and been riding here nearly as long. His street-by-street, encyclopedic knowledge of the city certainly served us well on our exploration. 

“I bought a bike when I came to New York to get out of the city more often,” he tells me over drinks, reminiscing about his earliest days of riding in a city not known for its patient or courteous drivers. 


“But I soon found out that I could discover so much more about the city, particularly the out-of-the-way places, just by riding around and seeing where my bike would take me.”


Amen to that, I tell him, now familiar with a few more sights in the city that many a longtime New Yorker would have difficulty identifying, thanks to our ride.


Featured in Volume 012